Contrary to popular belief, fat is not our enemy! We actually need it to store energy, support cell growth, protect organs, absorb some nutrients, and produce important hormones. As women, we tend to carry fat in our breasts, hips, waist, and butt due to the estrogen in our systems. But did you know that our fat cells never disappear, regardless of our weight? Let’s review everything you need to know about fat cells and how they change along with our bodies.
How fat cells change over time
After puberty, the number of fat cells remains steady. But as we store more fat, each fat cell gets bigger. If you lose weight, fat cells can shrink which releases fat into the bloodstream, breaking down into smaller molecules that convert into carbon dioxide and exit mostly through the breath.
We cannot avoid changes in our body shape as it is a natural process of aging. As we reach 30 we tend to lose lean tissue. Organs, muscles, and bones also start to atrophy. The amount of body fat at over 30 can be almost one-third more than when we were younger. Weight gain occurs because fat replaces lean muscle tissue and fat weighs more than muscle.
In our 20s through 40s, our fat gathers in our butt, hips, and thighs for pregnancy and fertility. As we reach perimenopause, between 40 and 55, the fat settles in our waist for estrogen production. Then at postmenopausal age (over 55), fat is in all areas of the body, but the body is more amiable to giving up fat at that age.
How our bodies change over time
Around age 35, our periods tend to be stable. We may crave chocolate, sugar, and fat and our weight may increase. We may notice that our backs have more fat and our breasts may get bigger. Unfortunately, many of us find that diets don’t work as well.
In our 40s, our periods start to change and we begin to lose one pound of muscle per year. Caloric needs drop by as much as 400 per day and it’s even harder to keep our weight under control. And fat cells, especially around the waist, reproduce and multiply to make sure there is plenty of room to store fat and produce estrogen.
Once we hit our mid-50s, periods stop and our moods generally even out. We experience fewer hot flashes and our weight stabilizes. Getting back our 20-year-old body is just not feasible because gravity does exist and drops everything by about an inch by age 50.
So what do we do?
Take heart. We can take steps to help control the natural changes in our fat cells and bodies. Here’s how:
Exercise, exercise, exercise!
There are countless benefits of exercise, especially as we age. Staying active actually boosts our metabolism by as much as 4% to fight the weight gain. Some studies show that exercise creates an ‘afterburn’ of using up additional calories. Exercise also helps us fight fatigue and reduce mental sluggishness. We’re also able to achieve greater mobility, balance, and agility and keep our bones strong.
The magic bullet is to include multiple forms of exercise including aerobic activity, strength training. As we arrive at age 30, we lose up to 15% of muscle each decade without it and flexibility/balance movements such as yoga.
Guidelines change frequently but most all recommendations say a minimum of 30 minutes average of activity daily.
Eat a healthy diet.
After we turn 50, our bodies need fewer calories — between 200 and 400 less/day. We need to eat smaller amounts of food overall and make sure we’re consuming healthy fats. Many diets recommend eating smaller amounts instead of three square meals each day. We also need to eat the largest meal mid-day when metabolism is highest. The smallest meal should be at night when metabolism nose dives after 6 pm. And we also need to incorporate protein to build muscles and manage hunger.
Limit alcohol and avoid smoking.
Limiting alcohol not only helps control calories but is detrimental to health in larger quantities. Alcohol consumption is linked to increased cancer rates, especially breast cancer. It affects your appearance because it dehydrates the body and skin as well as affects sleep. And it can negatively affect bone health increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
The bottom line is that changes to our bodies and fat cells are inevitable. But we can control our weight and shape with proper diet, exercise, and healthy living. And don’t forget to eat a wide variety of whole foods (including healthy fats). Overeating is the enemy of our health, not our fat cells!
And speaking of eating healthy, it’s important to make sure you’re eating the proper foods! Check out the best nutritional advice for women over 50.